What's happened to the presumption of innocence?

There is no greater abuse of the principle of the presumption of innocence than random testing.

Innocent until proven guilty, the presumption of innocence, balancing scales of justice and equal access for everyone to justice are fundamental to legal systems in a civilised country. That presumption will be challenged in discussions about what should happen to the Alcohol and Other Drugs Industry Guidelines after the completion of the trial.

An employee’s fitness for work (of which properly managing drugs and alcohol is only a small part) is a fundamental consideration. Employees are obliged to present themselves to work in a condition suitable to get the job done and discharge their obligations to the employer. And employers are entitled to expect nothing less. Appropriately onerous legislative health and safety obligations mean that health and safety at work is now everyone's responsibility.

The trial of the Industry Guidelines provided no evidence that there is any value in the random testing of employees for drugs. 293 employees chosen at random to be tested and 176 employees actually random tested leaves those supporting a random testing regime short of evidence and grasping at straws. This should be sufficient for the issue now to be dead. But it won't be.

Too many people already think that the fundamental legal principle of the presumption of innocence should be abandoned in the purported interests of ensuring that workers turn up at work in a condition to get the job done properly. Using occupational health and safety obligations to test the innocent  fails to manage risk proportionate to the risk and does workplace health and safety a considerable disservice.

We support the concept of people turning up to get the job done properly. We have always supported the importance of testing employees after accidents and incidents or on reasonable suspicion. We support the adoption of a supportive and encouraging culture in local government that employees with drug or alcohol issues, or health, obesity, family, mental health issues or whatever, get sympathetic and appropriate support.

We need to reclaim the debate and refocus it away from "dobbing" on a workmate to doing the right thing by bringing to the attention of management employees who are clearly a danger to themselves and others.

In the absence of any evidence to support random testing for drugs, the gossipers are already talking about the explanations - there was a deterrent effect, at risk employees stayed away, at risk employees didn't get picked up in the random testing and on and on. There is no evidence at all that the trial made any change to levels of health and safety in the industry and if the gossipers believe that people known to be a risk to their workmates stayed away from work, and those employees are sufficiently notorious already, then we are entitled to ask why they hadn’t been identified in the interests of health and safety for everyone.

People turning up at work, getting on with the job and doing it properly, who are showing no signs of impairment or the effects of drugs or alcohol, are entitled to be treated as innocents.

Focusing on random testing because you're too lazy to identify those you know who are at risk or because you won't support a change in the culture of the organisation to properly manage risks, misses the point. It might be the easy way out but it is the wrong way out.

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